September 14, 2017

Landa-Stevens Architects Builds Their First Concrete House in Los Angeles

Russ Leland knew all about statement houses. A residential real estate developer in Los Angeles, he had restored and lived in landmarks by Pierre Koenig and Rudolph M. Schindler—the latter of which he donated to the MAK Center for Art and Architecture in 2007. But ever since watching Mudhouse, a documentary about the making of a concrete abode in Montecito, California, Leland had dreamed of building his own. The dream got a step closer to reality when he purchased a corner property in Beverly Grove and put out a call to Landa-Stevens Architects. The only catch? His longtime friends, firm partners Sharon D. Landa and Cary D. Stevens, had never designed an all-concrete dwelling. Luckily, they were game to give it a go.

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Ultimately, the team opted to build the structure with a combination of burnished concrete blocks and poured-in-place concrete. Exterior walls are interior walls—there’s no distinction between the two. “From the outside, it’s just a box set on the smallest possible lot,” Landa says. Adds Stevens, a bit ominously, “It looks foreboding.”

Flooring in the 20-foot-high living area (and throughout) is concrete. Photography by Tim Street-Porter.

Step inside, though, and discover a surprise. Far from brutalist, the interior is light-filled and gloriously spare. That’s due to strategically placed skylights and south-facing windows. The concrete facade’s second story is perforated with 4-inch holes that funnel daylight into an alfresco terrace and adjacent bedroom, mediated by full-height glass sliders.

Scant interior separation and a double-height living area make the 2,200 square feet appear larger. “It’s one open space with holes cut in it, like a piece of Swiss cheese,” Leland says with a laugh. One such “hole” is the circular window in the mezzanine-level office, which floats above the kitchen.

The sole (and notably doorless) bedroom is similarly balcony-like, overlooking the main room through a large, frameless aperture. Only the bathrooms, of necessity, depart from the open concept: each can be closed behind sliding doors. Terrazzo stars in the master bath, while the powder room has vibes of the Maker Movement courtesy of a bluestone-slab sink supported by copper pipes.

Unfinished timber 4-by-4s support the custom dining/work table’s plastic laminate top; the L-shape kitchen counter was inspired by Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion. Photography by Tim Street-Porter.

Other points of interest livening the concrete landscape include a vertical-grain Douglas fir storage partition that imparts warmth while concealing passage to the basement. It also anchors the stairway, its gleaming off-white porcelain-tile steps a counterpoint to the prevailing gray.

As for furnishings, Leland, a longtime collector, deployed stellar designs by Charles and Ray Eames, Le Corbusier, Eero Saarinen, Robert Mallet-Stevens, and Ward Bennett. The pièce de resistance is a large-format photograph from Michael Schnabel’s Cages series that hangs above the sofa. The image, a minimalist concrete interior—actually a Swiss zoo—cheekily resembles the house in which it’s framed.

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